WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, during a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on the U.S. Department of the Interior's (DOI) fiscal year 2017 budget request, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) continued to advocate for increased access and recreational opportunities on New Mexico public lands. The committee received testimony from U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
During the hearing, Senator Heinrich discussed the success of transitioning the Valles Caldera National Preserve to new management. In 2014, Senator Heinrich worked to pass legislation that was signed into law to transfer management of the Valles Caldera National Preserve to the National Park Service (NPS). The Preserve now has expanded public hours, a new hiking trail, and additional opportunities for elk and turkey hunting.
Additionally, Senator Heinrich advocated for expedited repairs of the passenger elevators at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in Eddy County. The park plays a critical role in spurring southeastern New Mexico's economy where visitors go for outdoor recreation activities. Senator Heinrich also advocates for better routine maintenance in order to reduce emergency maintenance costs so visitors and local families can easily access our public lands.
Later in the hearing, Senator Heinrich highlighted DOI's budget proposal to institute hardrock mining royalty fees for mine cleanup. Senator Heinrich is a lead sponsor of S. 2254, the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act, a bill to ensure mining companies pay royalties for the privilege of extracting mineral resources from public lands. The bill helps ensure that taxpayers aren't on the hook for cleaning up abandoned mines, many of which are continuously leaking toxic chemicals into rivers and streams and have the potential for catastrophic disasters like the August 2015 Gold King Mine blowout.
Senator Heinrich also recognized DOI's budget proposal for $2.3 million to support access to the Sabinoso Wilderness. Established by Congress in 2009, the public has never had legal access to the Sabinoso Wilderness because there is no public road or trail from the county road to the area. The Bureau of Land Management is working to acquire land that will provide public access to the wilderness for the first time. DOI's budget request includes making funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund mandatory and permanently authorizes the program, which will help purchase land to complete full public access to the Sabinoso Wilderness.